Lymphoma Survivor

Survivor gained perspective and created a new life

Becky Brown has an adventurous spirit. By the time she was 24, she had worked as an Emergency Medical Technician, volunteered at her hometown fire department in East Hampton, New York, completed two years of college where she also played two sports and was working on a tropical island. She was living her dream life until she became ill, and was subsequently diagnosed with stage 2b Hodgkin lymphoma – nodular sclerosis.

When her life was suddenly interrupted, Becky took stock and moved to California to finish her college education. Becky now lives on the beach, just south of San Luis Obispo. She is a landscape designer, has a young son and remains in remission. She has also competed in a triathlon and marathon with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.

 

It was the fall of 1997 and I was living in the Caribbean. I was a dive master at a dive shop and my fiancé was a dive instructor. Life was proceeding just how I had fantasized it would. That is, until a cancer diagnosis interrupted everything.

I began coughing, which I thought was my asthma, but I couldn’t control it with my inhaler and soon I couldn’t work because I would start coughing under water. I went to see the doctor on the island and he said that I had hookworm.

The problems continued, however, and now included chest pains around my heart. I went back to the doctor several times and when he took an x-ray, they found a tennis ball-sized mass, which he thought might still be hookworm. He wanted me to rest, but they needed me at work — and I couldn’t work. This caused tension all the way around — at work and at home.

Finally in January I told my parents. My mom paid for me to come home to New York to see a doctor and I thought I would just get this taken care of and go back to my life. That’s where I was mistaken. My longtime pulmonologist looked at the x-rays and knew something was wrong. He sent me to New York City where I began several weeks of tests.

Here I was a 24-year-old kid with long, blonde hair and a fading tan who was very reluctantly being admitted to a hospital for testing. Yet, every doctor I met with was extremely kind and thoughtful, and because I was seeing the same doctors over and over, I developed a wonderful rapport with them. I wasn’t afraid to talk with them about what they wanted to do to treat me, and I never, ever thought that I wouldn’t be okay.

When the tests were completed, my surgeon performed a surgical biopsy, and then removed the tumor, a piece of my lung, and some lymph nodes near my heart. Five days later, while I was still recovering from surgery, they diagnosed Hodgkin lymphoma. It didn’t really hit me until my oncologist wanted to start chemotherapy right away.

This was the beginning of the realization that my life was going to change. I underwent six months of chemotherapy, and then had my stem cells harvested. I lost my hair, my appetite and had two ports in my chest. Thankfully, I went into remission. I gradually regained my strength and when I finished the chemotherapy, I began weekly therapy appointments with a psychologist. That was huge in my road to recovery.

Not too long afterwards, my fiancé and I went our separate ways, and I was invited by a friend to visit California. There are certain times in your life when you have a “gut feeling.” That’s how I felt when I drove from San Francisco to San Diego on Highway One. My life was a blank slate at this point — I was determined to finish my education and I knew it had to be there.

My parents were wholeheartedly supportive -— and scared for me. For them, it was pure joy to see me living my life and making these choices. Over the next few years, I enrolled at California Polytechnic State University in landscape architecture. I met my son’s father and we wanted a child together. I was so excited when I was pregnant because I didn’t know if I could have children.

It has been an amazing journey -— not without challenges like postpartum depression and separating from my son’s father, but I have been blessed in so many other ways. I have a wonderful son, I’m healthy, and I have a great oncologist who helps me with my regular blood work and CAT scans.

Through everything, I have learned perspective — to hold onto the things you want and to choose what is really worth expending energy on. We are on this earth for such a short time, and I still have a lot of things to do.

 

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